They took the limo over to the Fira because one of the security guards had to accompany Alexander everywhere he went. In this case, Costa got stuck with the job. He sat up in the front of the long vehicle, next to Vasilis, and Kathy, Gwen and Alexander sat in the back.
As they began to wind down the mountain, Kathy caught glimpses of a darkening sky to the west, but no one else seemed to notice.
It was twelve fifty-five when they reached the harbor. Kathy expected to encounter a group of tourists milling around the pier where the tour boat was docked, but there wasn’t a single person there. Kathy had phoned earlier that morning to make the reservations for Gwen and Alexander, and the owner of the tour company had told her there were already seven other people signed up.
As they climbed out of the limo, the captain of the boat stepped off onto the dock.
“Everybody cancel,” he said, with a disgusted shrug. “Afraid rain.”
At that instant, a faint but ominous rumble echoed across the water, and they all looked at the sky to the west. Kathy knew the weather very well now, and it wasn’t a big storm, just a shower that would pass in a matter of fifteen minutes. Most of the sky was the usual deep Mediterranean blue.
“We’re not afraid of a little rain,” Gwen said dismissively, and she put her hand on Alexander’s shoulder. “Are we?”
“No way,” the boy said, thrusting his chest out.
“I have parkas for everybody!” the tour operator said happily, looking at Costa.
Kathy looked at him too, for his approval.
The ugly Greek man glanced at the sky and merely shrugged. “Up to you.”
The four of them followed the tour operator over to the boat, the only participants on the tour.
As he started the engine and pulled away from the dock, Kathy thought, Is this another sign?
* * *
A few minutes later, the pirate-like boat, complete with a Jolly Roger and a couple of fake cannons jutting from the bow, reached the dock on Nea Kameni Island. There was nothing on the volcanic isle except the pier and a Greek tavern, which was only open during the day.
They all stepped off the boat wearing their bright yellow parkas, including Costa.
“Does he really have to come?” Alexander whined.
Gwen and Kathy looked at the big Greek man.
Costa’s keen eyes scanned the desolate island from one end to the other. The tavern was open but looked nearly deserted, too, the aging owner sitting at a table outside, reading a book. He gave a friendly wave when he saw them looking at him. They waved back.
Costa nodded to Kathy with a shrug. “Still up to you.”
Kathy looked around again. Costa’s job here was to protect Alexander from kidnapping, but she had never seen anyone on the volcanic island except tourists who arrived on the boats—the craggy coastline was impossibly sharp, rugged volcanic rock. And Gwen and Alexander hadn’t even decided to go on the tour until a few hours ago, so no one could have anticipated it.
“I think it’s okay if you stay here,” she told him.
“Yay!” Alexander said.
The big man chuckled. “Okay, Superman. I sit outside tavern and keep eye on pier.”
* * *
A few minutes later, Kathy, Gwen and Alexander were climbing the steep gravel and shingle path that led up the side of the caldera. The wind had increased, and Kathy soon felt the thump of raindrops on her parka, and she pulled up the hood.
Gwen and Alexander did the same.
Surprisingly, the boy did not seem the least bit bored. He cried “Look at those rocks!” when he saw that their color was beginning to change from black to a deep red. “They look like they’re hot!” Kathy and Gwen both stopped and watched him pick one up, looking disappointed that the wet stone felt like an ordinary rock, moist from the rain.
As they continued to climb, Kathy began to spout off her memorized technical spiel about the origin of the volcanoes, the eruptions on the nearby islands, and the history of Nea Kameni. “The island we’re standing on right now didn’t even appear until 1707. It just rose up out of the sea, over a four year period, while Palia Kameni was erupting.”
“Really?” Alexander said doubtfully.
“Absolutely. When Skaros Castle was still standing on Santorini, there was a strong earthquake, and the next day people could see this new island slowly rising up out of the water.”
“Wow,” Alexander said. He glanced out over the crater and across the water at the island that was his home.
“At first, the people on Santorini didn’t even know what it was—they thought it was a shipwreck. They came over by boat to investigate, and they discovered black lava, pumice and sea creatures on the rock that were still alive. It kept on rising until it reached the height it is now, one hundred and six meters above sea level. The last time the volcano actually erupted was in 1950.”
Gwen looked impressed. “You sure know a lot about this.”
Kathy shrugged modestly. “It’s just a bunch of stuff I’ve read over the years.”
* * *
A few minutes later, when they reached the very top of the crater, the storm finally hit.
The rain came down harder than Kathy had anticipated, but from experience, she didn’t think it would last long.
The three of them huddled among some boulders that were scattered just along the beginning of the dangerous portion of the gravel path, the left-hand side sheering off into oblivion.
After a few minutes, the rain slowed and quickly dissipated into little more than a sprinkle.
When the sun appeared, Alexander threw back his hood and looked down the path.
“I’m going to the top!” he cried, and he scampered up the gravel path before Kathy or Gwen could stop him.
“Stay to the right!” Kathy yelled, her heart in her throat. But in a matter of seconds he was past the dangerous section, scurrying higher up the rim.
Gwen looked scared.
“It’s okay,” Kathy said. “This is the only place there’s any chance of slippin’—the rest of the circuit around the crater is completely flat.”
The two of them continued along, Kathy leading the way, making sure to stay to the right. The rain had loosened the rocks and made them more slippery than usual.
“Look, there’s a rainbow!” Alexander cried.
Kathy and Gwen both turned around. Sure enough, there was a band of blue and orange and yellow coming out of the clouds that appeared to touch the water in between the two islands.
Alexander continued on along the ridge, disappearing over the next rise.
Just as they reached the end of the tricky section, Kathy noticed that Gwen had stopped behind her.
She edged over to the left a little farther—the best views of the crater were from there.
Kathy swallowed. Gwen’s back was to her, only three feet away.
“It’s so beautiful,” Gwen said, inching a little farther out.
Now Kathy’s heart was pounding. She turned her head slowly to the right...Alexander had disappeared over the rise. And to the left, the pier and tavern were not visible, blocked by the other side of the crater.
The only people who might be able to see them were those on Santorini, which was over a mile away. Spyro had a telescope in his bedroom, but the chances of him looking across the sea at this exact spot, at this exact moment, were slim. She and Kathy would appear as nothing more than two little yellow specs.
All she had to do was take one step towards Gwen and thrust out both arms...the young woman would fly over the edge, turning end over end, and hit the rocks one hundred feet below.
The stars have all lined up perfectly for this moment, Kathy thought.
God is telling me to do this.
It was the only way to escape from the misery she was trapped in now...
No one could survive that fall.
With her throat completely dry, she inched a half step closer to Gwen.
Gwen suddenly turned around.
Her blue eyes locked on Kathy’s.
A slow, knowing smile spread across her face.
She glanced to the left, and to the right, and she stepped closer, took Kathy’s face into her hands, and gave Kathy a long, deep kiss.
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